Modern cloth nappies

Cloth nappies have come a long way since the terry squares of yesteryear but disposables still reign the shopping cart.
 
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01 .Introduction

Modern-cloth-nappies-lead

We surveyed hundreds of online parents to find out their thoughts on, and experiences with, different types of nappies. 

Disposables still clearly dominate usage, with more than 95% of parents using them some or all of the time. The current incarnation of modern cloth nappies (MCNs) has made inroads into the market over the last decade or so - almost one in five of our respondents use them at least some of the time. They’re good for some people, some of the time, but are they right for you?

For more information on Nappies, see Kids health. Or, if you want to read more about one mum's experience with cloth nappies see our blog, My journey from disposable to cloth nappies.

How popular are modern cloth nappies?

Of those we surveyed, 18% said they currently use MCNs: 16% in combination with disposable nappies (including eco disposables), and around 2% use MCNs exclusively (and a few in combination with traditional terry cloth nappies).

“I used disposables for the first few weeks with my newborn (legs too skinny for MCNs to fit without leaking). Now I use MCNs at home, and disposables at daycare, on holidays and occasionally as spare nappies (e.g. if the MCNs aren't dry.)”

The main perceived benefits of cloth nappies are their lower environmental impact, the long-term cost savings, their appearance and the fact that they are gentle on babies’ skin. For many, there’s also an evangelical joy in using them.

“Besides all the other benefits – easy to use, no chemicals against baby's skin, easy to wash, better for the environment – cloth is just fun! I love my nappy stash, I love the way it looks on bubs, and I have so much fun with it!”

“With my third baby using the same set of modern cloth nappies, I now delight in how much money I have saved in nappy purchasing after that initial outlay for the cloth nappies.”

Cost comparison – MCNs versus disposable

There are a number of variables involved in costing cloth nappies against disposables.

Disposables

If you estimate a baby using about 6500 nappies from birth to toilet training (based on six nappies a day for three years), Huggies, the most popular brand of disposable in our survey, will cost around $3000 (when bought in bulk packages). A cheaper disposable, like Aldi’s Mamia, the second most popular brand in our survey, will cost you around $1900 all up.

MCNs

Cloth nappies cost about $30 each on average, plus boosters and liners. You’ll need about 20-24 to get started, which will allow you to wash every two days and still have a set to use on laundry day. However, the number required will vary depending on washing and drying habits, climate, season etc. That’s an upfront cost of around $600-$700.

Costs of laundering have to be factored in as well, and these will depend on your particular washing machine, whether you use warm, hot or cold water, your brand of detergent, and whether they’re tumble-dried. Still, with one set of nappies, cool water washing and line drying, you’ll be up for less than half the cost of disposables.

It's worth to note that if you buy sized nappies rather than one-size-fits-most, you’ll have to buy another set or two later on, which will add to the expense. But consider also that if you can use your MCNs on more than one child, your cost savings will add up.

Which brand?

There are many, many brands of nappy out there – respondents reported using a total of 248 different brands. Most people use more than one brand, with 3.7 brands used on average and one-third of people using five or more brands. Many brands are supplied by small cottage industry enterprises, or WAHM (work at home mums), creating their own distinctive and/or custom designs and selling them online. However, of the top 12 most popular brands, very few strictly qualify as WAHM – apart from the out-and-out large-scale commercial companies, a more typical scenario is that a WAHM operation became a small family enterprise and then further expanded to become a full-blown business operation.

As well as different brands, there are also different types, sometimes several types within each brand – these are listed and described in the buying guide.

Cloth or not?

Moving on from the enthusiasts, another 17.3% of our survey respondents had used MCNs in the past and stopped. The main reasons given for stopping were the time and space required to wash and dry them, problems with leaks and nappy rash, and the expense of buying a new set in the next size up once the baby had grown out of the first size.

“I stopped using MCNs, because they were time consuming, took way too long to dry even in the long hot summer months, plus my baby was suffering from nappy rash even though we had followed the washing and rinsing instructions.”

“I don't enjoy washing soiled nappies. I'm time poor, but also find it revolting.”

“They were great but we grew out of the size and didn’t have the money to stock up on another lot.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, mothers doing more than 20 hours a week of paid work were less likely to use MCNs than those working fewer hours.

If people had considered using them, but not gone ahead with it, we asked them why not. The main reasons were the upfront cost, the time and hassle of extra washing created and the dread of dealing with leaks and poo.

“I appreciate that overall they would have been far more cost effective but we live pay to pay so we never had the money to build up an initial stock.”

“A friend used them and nearly convinced me with the money argument. Then we went out one day and her son’s nappy had a huge leak, and I thought: no, I don't want to deal with that.”

“I thought about the work involved and decided disposables were a far better use of my time.”

 
 

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What are the different styles?

  • Pre-folds are unshaped cloth nappies with several layers of cloth for absorbency, used with a leak-proof outer layer. This style of nappy is the cheapest of the modern variety, and while you also have to include the cost of the cover, one cover should last for up to four or five nappies before it needs washing. 
  • Fitted nappies look more like disposables with the same “fitted” shape around the legs and waist. They’re usually made from absorbent material: bamboo, hemp, cotton or fleece. Like pre-folds, they’re used with a waterproof cover, and you need around one cover for every four to five nappies. 
  • Pocket nappies have a waterproof outer layer sewn together with a soft inner lining. Between these two layers, there’s a gap (a “pocket”) where you put one or more absorbent inserts. The inserts need to be removed before washing and replaced afterwards, which can be a bit fiddly. 
  • All-in-ones combine the nappy’s different layers into one. They have a moisture-resistant outer layer sewn together with an absorbent inner to form the nappy. This means there’s no fussing around with separate layers – useful when you’re out and about. The extra bulk of all-in-ones does mean they can take longer to dry – though the type of fabric affects this. 
  • All-in-twos consist of a lined waterproof shell and one or more snap-in absorbent layers or boosters, which are taken apart for laundering. Offering faster drying times than all-in-ones, if you re-assemble them after laundering, they’re conveniently in one piece and ready to go. They're also sometimes called snap-in-ones. This was the most popular type in our survey.

Sizing - OSFM or small, medium & large?

Cloth nappies come in various sizes, and sizing can differ between brands. Some brands are available in small, medium and large; otherwise it’s one-size-fits-most (OSFM). Some offer both options. The one-size-fits-most has extra fastenings for adjusting the nappy as your baby grows. These nappies will get more wear and tear because you’re using them all the time (something to consider if you want them to last for a second child). The alternative is to buy bigger sizes as needed; you’ll need to buy more nappies but they should last longer.

Fabrics used

The various components for cloth nappies are made from a variety of fabrics. Bamboo, cotton, hemp or fleece are the main ones, with PUL or wool often used for covers. PUL is a breathable polyurethane laminated fabric that provides a water barrier. Wool is lanolised to provide water resistance, and needs airing rather than washing when wet. However, these covers will need relanolising every couple of weeks.
The type of fabric used affects drying time. Natural fibres usually take longer to dry than synthetics. If you prefer natural fibres, you’ll want to make sure you have enough nappies to get through a few days of wet weather – or get a tumble-drier. Check the laundry-care information before you buy.

How do I choose which brand and type to use?

Fat legs, thin legs, big tums, skinny bums … Babies come in a range of shapes and sizes, as do nappies. And then there are individual soiling habits. Given that fit and absorbency are so critical for performance, it’s difficult to predict what style, size or brand of nappy will suit your baby best, and the one your best friend swears by may not work for you.

  • You could buy a single nappy in each of the styles you like to see which suits your baby best.
  • Some companies sell trial packs with samples of the different styles.
  • An increasingly popular alternative is to hire a trial pack from a nappy library. You can try different brands and styles, and decide which – if any – are for you. The service is offered by nappy companies and community groups: Google ‘modern cloth nappy library’ to find one near you.
  • You could try secondhand nappies – ask around among friends and family.

 

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